Edwin G. Boring
First Major Historian of Psychology
Visual Perception Research
Edwin Garrigues “Gary” Boring was an experimental psychologist and a historian of psychology. He joined the Harvard faculty as an associate professor in 1922, and by 1928 he was full professor. In 1956 he retired, as the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology Emeritus. He also served as Director of the Psychological Laboratory from 1924 to 1949.
Boring’s strongly positivist view of psychology as a science made a large imprint on Harvard’s psychology department. Over the course of his long career Boring never wavered from his emphasis on experimental psychology as the only legitimately scientific way of probing the relationship between the environment and human behavior.
Boring’s efforts to shape the way psychology was practiced at Harvard bore fruit in 1937, when the Psychology Department gained complete independence from the Philosophy Department, to which it had been tethered since its founding more than 50 years earlier.
As an experimental researcher, Boring conducted innovative studies of visual perception. He introduced to the literature this now-classic example of a perceptually ambiguous figure, which depicts both a young woman and an old woman, often known as the “Boring figure.” He also published influential work on the “moon illusion” (the fact that the moon looks larger on the horizon than at its zenith).
Boring was known in his time as “Mr. Psychology.” He wrote prolifically, including his classic book, History of Experimental Psychology, which remains an invaluable reference to this day, and was active in the major psychological associations. His theoretical papers inspired research by other experimental psychologists, including his student S. S. Stevens. Edwin Boring is listed as number 93 on the American Psychological Association’s list of the 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century.
Boring, E. G. (1963). Eponym as placebo. In D. Campbell & R. Watson (Eds.), History, psychology, and science: Selected papers of E. G. Boring New York: Wiley.
Cerullo, J.J. (1988). Edwin G. Boring: Reflections on a discipline builder. The American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 101, No. 4. (Winter, 1988), pp. 561-575.
Eminent psychologists of the 20th century. (July/August, 2002). Monitor on Psychology, 33(7), p.29.